REVIEW: Hacksaw Ridge (2016) by David Hart

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Anticipation:     3.5/5     As I thought about seeing Hacksaw Ridge, there were a few things that made me feel good about it, and a few things that didn’t. First, the good. Andrew Garfield in a starring role. I remember seeing him in The Social Network and thinking that he would be a big star. And he has been in a way.  But I am happy to see him in a juicy, dramatic role. Also, good is Mel Gibson directing. As a director, in my opinion, he has not made a bad film. And nobody does war violence, or violence in general like Mel Gibson. But there is his history… so, instead of being purely excited, I was a little torn.

Final Verdict:    4/5    This is a very good film; let me get that out of the way. But sometimes a very good film can make you much more frustrated and disappointed than a very bad film. Hacksaw Ridge was just a few directorial and acting choices away from being one of 2016’s few great films. That being said, it’s currently (just barely) in my running top 10 for the year.

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Hacksaw Ridge is based on the true story of World War II Army Medic Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), who served while refusing to kill people, or even touch a rifle, and became the first Conscientious Objector in history to be awarded the Medal of Honor. But it should be noted, that this movie is probably not what you think it is. From the trailers, you might assume that it is two hours of war and gore. Be warned, although that is in the movie, the majority of the runtime focuses on Doss’ backstory, including his alcoholic father (Hugo Weaving) and his blossoming relationship with a nurse, Dorothy (Theresa Palmer).

Gibson is doing some next level balancing act work with this story. Here we have a story about war with a main character who refuses to fire a bullet. A character who is religious without coming off as holier than thou. A love story being the focus of a war movie, while attempting to create a female character who is well-rounded and not just “someone to come home to.”  Frankly, it is hard enough to make a war movie that is not groan worthy because we have seen it all before. In my opinion, Gibson did manage all of these things.

The love story is good enough for us to care about, but certainly does not dominate the movie. Doss and Dorothy have just enough charisma together, even if he does give off a bit of a stalker vibe from time to time. Actually, all of the relationships in the film work.  For my money, the most important one is between father and son. He probably won’t get it, but Hugo Weaving deserves awards consideration for his performance. Yes, the alcoholic abusive father is a trope, but in the hands of Weaving, this character comes alive and we both loathe and love him throughout the story.

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And now we come to it, the battle sequences. There is good and bad here. The mistakes of this film are when Gibson just plain goes too far. There are a couple moments in the battle that are either too over the top gory or just plain silly and take the viewer out of the film for a split second. Additionally, there are two specific scenes after battles with Private Doss that are positively dripping with religious symbolism, which nearly made my eyes roll out of my head.  But I will say that the lead up to the battle at Hacksaw Ridge rank up there with the most nerve wracking experiences I have had in a movie theater.  The actual battle is visceral and I felt myself almost jump in reaction to the violence on screen.  This is not for the faint of heart.  But at the same time, unlike many other reviewers, I do not see this film as glorifying violence, or pacifism for that matter.  Gibson does a great job of putting both sides on the screen for you to make your own judgments.

This is definitely a film that I recommend, but with caveats. I am not kidding about the battle sequences. If you have a weak stomach or are prone to feeling anxious, this might not be an enjoyable experience for you. Hacksaw Ridge is a good film that I hope gets more eyes on it than I fear that it will. I can certainly understand wanting to avoid Mel Gibson’s films because of his private life. That is absolutely a personal choice. He also happens to have made a damn fine film, with interesting messages and questions to ponder.

Hacksaw Ridge trailer

Here is a short interview with Desmond Doss about receiving the Medal of Honor

Be sure to check out David’s Podcast Pop Culture Case Study’s Episode on Hacksaw Ridge!

What did you think of Hacksaw Ridge? Sound off in the comment section below!

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